Chapter XVIII: Fleeting Shadows

In high spirits Henry left the plantation of Latuer, after sowing seeds from which in due season, he anticipated an abundant harvest. He found the old man Nathan all that could be desired, and equal to the task of propagating the scheme. His soul swelled with exultation on receiving the tidings, declaring that though nearly eighty years of age, he never felt before an implied meaning, in the promise of the Lord.
'Now Laud !' with uplifted hand exclaimed he at the conclusion of the interview ; ' my eyes has seen, and meh yeahs heahn, an' now Laud ! I's willin' to stan' still an' see dy salvation !'
On went Henry to Metoyers, visiting the places of four brothers, having taken those of the white planters intervening, all without detection or suspicion of being a stranger.
Stopping among the people of Col. Hopkins at Grantico summit, here as at Latuer's and all intermediate places he found the people patiently looking for a promised redemption. Here a pet female slave, Silva, espied him and gave the alarm that a strange black was lurking among the negro quarters, which compelled him to retirement sooner than intended.
5Among the people of Dickson at Pine Bluff, he found the best of spirits. There was Newman, a young slave man born without arms, who was ready any moment for a strike.
' How could you fight ?' said Henry ; ' you have no arms !''
' I am compelled to pick with my toes, a hundred pound of cotton a day,* and I can sit on a stool and touch off a cannon !' said this promising young man whose heart panted with an unsuppressed throb for liberty.
Heeley's, Harrison's, and Hickman's slaves, were fearfully and pitiably dejected. Much effort was required to effect a seclusion, and more to stimulate them to action. The continual dread 'that maus wont let us!' seemed as immovably fixed as the words were constantly repeated ; and it was not until an occasion for an another subject of inquest in the person of a pest of an old black slave man, that an organization was effected.
Approaching Crane's on Little River, the slaves were returning from the field to the gin. Many being females some of whom were very handsome, had just emptied their baskets. So little clothing had they, and so loosely hung the tattered fragments about them, that they covered themselves behind the large empty baskets tilted over on the side, to shield their person from exposure.
10The overseer engaged in another direction, the master absent, and the family at the great house, a good opportunity presented for an inspection of affairs.
' How do you do young woman ?' saluted Henry.
' How de do sir !' replied a sprightly, comely young mulatto girl, who stood behind her basket with not three yards of cloth in the tattered relic of the only garment she had on.
' Who owns this place ?'
' Mr. Crane sir,' she politely replied with a smile.
15' How many slaves has he ?'
' I don'o some say five 'a six hunded.'
' Do they all work on this place ?'
' No sir, he got two-three places.'
' How many on this place ?'
20' Oveh a hundred an' fifty.'
' What allowances have you ?'
' None sir.'
' What! no Saturday to yourselves?'
' No sir.'
25' They allow you Sundays, I suppose.'
' No sir, we work all day ev'ry Sunday.'
' How late do you work ?'
' Till we can' see to pick no mo' cotton; but w'en its moon light, we pick till ten o'clock at night.'
' What time do you get to wash your clothes ?'
30' None sir ; da on'y 'low us one suit ev'ry New Yehs day,* an' us gals take it off every Satady night aftah de men all gone to bed and wash it fah Sunday.'
' Why do you want clean clothes on Sunday, if you have to work on that day ?'
' It's de Laud's day, an' we wa to be clean, and we feel betteh.'
' How do the men do for clean clothes ?'
' We wash de men's clothes afteh da go to bed.'
35' And you say you are only allowed one suit a year ? Now young woman ; I don't know your name but—'
' Nancy, sir.'
' Well Nancy, speak plainly, and dont be backward ; what does your one suit consist of?'
' A frock sir, made out er coarse tow linen.'
' Only one piece, and no under clothes at all ?'
40' Dat's all sir !' replied she modestly looking down and drawing the basket which sufficiently screened her, still closer to her person.
' Is that which you have on a sample of the goods your clothes are made of?'
' Yes sir, dis is da kine.'
' I would like to see some other of your girls.'
' Stop sir, I go call Susan !' when gathering up, and drawing around and before her, a surplus of the back section, the only remaining sound remnant of the narrow tattered garment that she wore, off she ran behind the gin, where lay in the sun, a number of
45girls to rest themselves during their our of 'spell.'
' Susan!' she exclaimed rather loudly; I do'n want you gals !' she pleasantly admonished, as the whole twelve or fifteen rose from their resting place, and came hurriedly around the building, Nancy an san in the lead. They instinctively as did Nancy, drew their garments around and about them, on coming in sight of the stranger. Standing on the outside of the fence, Henry politely bowed as they approached.
' Dis is Susan sir !' said Nancy, introducing her friend with bland simplicity.
' How de do sir!' saluted she, a modest and intelligent, very pretty young black girl, of good address.
' Well Susan !' replied Henry ; I dont want any thing but to see you girls ; but I will ask you this question : how many suit of clothes do they give you a year ?'
50' One sir.'
' How many pieces make a suit ?'
' Jus' one frock; and they simultaneously commenced drawing still closer before, the remnant of coarse garment, which hung in tatters about them.
' Dont you have shoes and stockings in winter ?'
' We no call foh shoes, case 'taint cole much; on'y some time little fros'.'
55' How late in the evening do you work ?'
' Da fiel' han's dah;' pointing to those returning to the field; ' da work till bed time, but we gals heah, we work in de gin, and spell each other ev'ey twelve ouahs.'
' You're at leisure now; who fills your places ?'
' Nutha set a' han's go to work, fo' you come.'
' How much cotton do they pick for a task?'
60' Each one mus' pick big basket full, an' fetch it in f'om da fiel' to de gin, else da git thirty lashes.'
' How much must the women pick as a task ?'
' De same as de men.'
'That can't be possible !' said Henry, looking over the fence down upon their baskets; ' how much do they hold ?'
' I dis membeh sir, but good, 'eal.'
65' I see on each basket marked 225 lbs ; is that the quantity they hold ?'
' Yes sir, dat's it.'
' All mus' be in ghin certain ouah else da git whipped ; sometime de men help 'em.'
' How can they do this when they have their own to carry ?'
' Da put derse on de head, an' ketch holt one side de women basket. Sometimes they leave part in de fiel, an' go back afteh it.'
70' Do yo get plenty to eat ?'
' No sir, da feeds us po'ly ; sometime, we do'n have mo'n half nough !'
' Did you girls ever work in the field ?'
' O yes sir! all uv us, on'y we wan't strong nough to fetch in ouh cotton, den da put us in de gin.'
' Where would you rather ; in the gin or in the field ?'
75' If 'twant foh carryin' cotton, we'a rather work in de fiel.''
' Why so girls ?'
' Case den da would'n be so many ole wite plantehs come an' look at us, like we was show!'
' Who sees that the tasks are all done in the field ?
' Da Driveh.'
80' Is he a white man ?'
' No sir, black.'
' Is he a free man ?
' No sir, slave.'
' Have you no white overseer ?'
85' Yes sir, Mr. Dorman.'
' Where is Dorman when you are at work ?'
' He out at de fiel too.'
' What is he doing there ?'
' He watch Jesse, da drivah.'
90' Is Jesse a pretty good fellow ?'
' No sir, he treat black folks like dog, he all de time beat'em, when da no call to do it."
' How did he treat you girls when you worked in the field ?'
' He beat us if we jist git little behind de rest in pickin' ! Da wite folks make 'im bad.'
' Point him out to me and after to¬night, he'll never whip another.'
95' Now girls, I see that you are smart intelligent young women, and I want you to tell me why it is, that your master keeps you all here at work in the gin, when he could get high prices for you, and supply your places with common cheap hands at half the money ?'
' Case we gals won' go! Da been mo'n a dozen plantehs heah lookin' at us, an' want to buy us foh house keepehs, an' we wont go ; we die fus !' said Susan with a shudder.
' Yes,' repeated Nancy, with equal emotion; 'we die fus!'
' How can you prevent it girls; wont your master sell you against your will ?'
' Yes sir, he would, but da plantehs da dont want us widout we willin' to
' I see! Well girls, I believe I'm done with you : but before leaving let me ask you, is there among your men, a real clever good trusty man ? I dont care either old or young, though I prefer an old or middle aged man.'
' O yes sir,' replied Nancy; ' da is some mong 'em.'
' Give me the name of one,' said Henry, at which request Nancy and Susan looked hesitatingly at each other.
' Dont be backward,' admonished he; 'as I sha'nt make a bad use of it.' But they still hesitated, when after an other admonition Nancy said—
105' Dare's uncle Joe—'
' No, uncle Moses, uncle Moses !' in a suppressed tone interrupted the other girls.
' Who is uncle Moses!' enquired Henry.
' He' my fatha!' replied Susan ; 'an—'
'My uncle!' interrupted Nancy.
110' Then you two are cousins ?'
' Yes sir, huh fatha an my motha is brotha an sisteh,' replied Nancy.
' Is he a religious man, girls ?'
' Yes sir, he used to preach but'e do'n preach now,' explained Susan.
' Why ?'
115' Case da 'ligions people wo'n heah im now.'
' Who colored people ?'
'Yes sir?'
' When did they stop hearing him preach ?'
' Good while ago.'
120'Where at?'
' Down in da bush meetin', at da Baptism.'
' He's a Baptist then—what did he
do ?'
Again became Susan and Nancy more perplexed than before, the other girls in this instance failing to come to their relief.
125' What did he do girls, let me know it quick, as I must be off?"
' Da say—da say—I do'n want tell you !' replied Susan hesitating with much feeling.
' What is it girls, cant some of you tell me ?' earnestly enquired Henry.
' Da say befo' 'e come heah way down in Fagina, he kill a man, ole po' wite ovehseeah !'
' Is that it girls ?' enquired he.
130' Yes sir !' they simultaneously replied.
'Then he's the very man I want to see !' said Henry. ' Now don't forget what I say to you ; tell him that a man will meet him to-night below here on the river side, just where the carcass of an ox lies in the verge of the thicket. Tell him to listen, and when I'm ready, I'll give the signal of the runaway—the screech of the panther*—when he must immediately obey the summons. One word more, and I'll leave you. Every one of you as you have so praiseworthily concluded, die before surrendering to such base purposes as that for which this man who holds you wishes to dispose of you. Girls, you will see me no more.—Fare—'
' Yo' name sir, yo' name !' they all exclaimed.
' My name is—Farewell, girls, farewell!'—when Henry darted in the thickest of the forest,leaving the squad of young maiden slaves in a state of bewildering inquiry concerning the singular black man.
The next day Jesse the driver was missed, and never after heard of. On inquiry being made of the old man Moses concerning the stranger, all that could be elicited was—
135' Stan' still child'en, and see da salvation uv da Laud !'
* At the age of thirteen his daily task was 36 lbs. with his toes. This fact was received from the master by the writer.
* Some Red River planters do not allow their slaves but one suit a year.
* This outlandish yell is given by runaway slaves in imitation of what they consider the screech of the panther, so as to frighten people, thus—'Who-Wee!' dwelling long on both syllables.
To Chapter XIX

Textual Notes

2meh yeahs heahn] 59; my years hearn 61
4retirement] 59; retire 61
6!''] 59; !' 61
7a hundred] 59; eighty 61
7,*] 59; ,† 61
8,] 59; not in 61
8'] 59; not in 61
8'that] 59; that 'maus wont 61
8occasion] 59; occasion was made for 61
9females] 59; being females, some 61
9they, and] 59; they on, and 61
9covered] 59; cowered 61
9baskets] 59; vessels 61
12do] 59; de do, sir!' 61
16don'o] 59; 'I don'o, some 61
16hunded] 59; hund'ed 61
20hundred] 59; hund'ed 61
30da] 59; day 61
30Yehs] 59; Years 61
30every] 59; ev'ry 61
30aftah] 59; afteh 61
30and] 59; an 61
30fah] 59; for 61
32wa] 59; wan' 61
35;] 59; , 61
38frock] 59; 'A frock, sir, 61
38coarse] 59; coase 61
42da] 59; de 61
44surplus] 59; surplice 61
45our] 59; hour 61
46loudly;] 59; loudly; 'I do'n 61
46came] 59; went 61
46an san] 59; and Susan 61
46instinctively] 59; They instinctively, as 61
46. Standing] 59; , standing 61
46Henry] 59; who 61
47Susan] 59; is Susan, sir!' 61
49; I] 59; , " 61
49any thing] 59; anything 61
49suit] 59; suits 61
52;] 59; ;' 61
54foh] 59; for 61
56Da] 59; De 61
56han's dah] 59; hans dar 61
56heah] 59; hear 61
56ouahs] 59; ours 61
58'] 59; not in 61
64,] 59; not in 61
65225] 59; 125 61
65;] 59; .; 61
67ghin] 59; gin 61
67ouah] 59; our 61
69de] 59; der 61
69holt] 59; hole 61
69Sometimes they] 59; Sometime da 61
69de] 59; not in 61
69,] 59; ', 61
70yo] 59; you 61
71!'] 59; ! 61
73ouh] 59; our 61
73in] 59; at 61
74; in] 59; be, at 61
75foh] 59; for 61
75'a rather] 59; drather 61
75.''] 59; '.' 61
78all] 59; not in 61
78?] 59; ?' 61
79Da] 59; De 61
82-84Is he a free man ? / ' No sir, slave.' / '] 59; not in 61
87fiel] 59; de fiel' too.' 61
89da drivah] 59; de driveh 61
91da] 59; de 61
91."] 59; .' 61
93jist] 59; jis' 61
93rest] 59; res' 61
93' ! Da] 59; '! De 61
94to¬night] 59; to-night 61
96heah] 59; hear 61
96foh] 59; for 61
97; '] 59; , " 61
98against] 59; agianst 61
99da] 59; de 61
101:] 59; ; 61
104sha] 59; shan 61
104nt] 59; t 61
104.'] 59; . 61
104an other] 59; another 61
105Joe] 59; Joh 61
107!' enquired] 59; ?' inquired 61
108'] 59; is 61
108fatha] 59; father 61
111huh fatha] 59; her father 61
111an] 59; father an' my 61
111an] 59; brotha an' sisteh,' 61
115ligions] 59; ligious 61
115wo] 59; won 61
115n heah im] 59; hear him 61
115.'] 59; . 61
116Who] 59; now. / 'Who, colored 61
117?'] 59; .' 61
121da] 59; de 61
125?"] 59; ?' 61
127enquired] 59; inquired 61
128heah] 59; hear 61
128ovehseeah] 59; ovehseer 61
129enquired] 59; inquired 61
130!'] 59; ' 61
130.] 59; .' 61
131you] 59; of you, as 61
131.—] 59;61
133forest,leaving] 59; forest on observing the approach of a white man, leaving 61
135,] 59; ; 61
135da] 59; de 61
135da] 59; de 61
136*] 59;61
138Whoo-Wee!] 59; WHOO-WEE! with all but two 'W's in small capitals; 61